Munch goes to Chica Loca

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Munch isn't always the trendiest, which is why, much to chagrin to FOM's everywhere, Munch is still using the Shake Weight, clad in carpenter jeans, doing the Macarena and declaring seafoam green the new black.

But considering this is the second new taco place Munch has reviewed in about a month, Munch feels confident in asserting that, in terms of food trends, tacos are the new gourmet burger, which was the new cupcake before it was the new bacon explosion.

Tacos have taken a bit of a hit lately, with word that a certain national chain, which rhymes with Rocco Smell, was dishing up beef that had enough nonbeef fillers to make Munch's stomach churn.

But fear not: Chica Loca's meat is 100 percent real meat, all of it grilled, braised or slow-cooked on site. Even the al pastor, which is pork shoulder roasted on a spit with a pineapple so its juices slowly drip down, is made in shop.

Chica Loca opened on Copeland Street in Shadyside in May, in a walk-up space that used to house Mercurio's Gelato, although the joint still serves gelato. The owner, Megan McNeish, is a 'burgher but was schooled in the ways of the taco in Cozumel, Mexico, where she spent enough time to get a handle on the local cuisine, according Actual Dining Critic Friend of Munch.

Between a Spanish dictionary and a few Ricky Martin songs, Munch discerned that Chica Loca translated to "crazy girl," which I suppose you might have to be to peddle Mexican street food and Italian desserts in the same storefront in Shadyside, not exactly the heart of Pittsburgh's Latino population. But Munch salutes valiant efforts in the name of food, and at least some of it seemed to pay off.

Tacos at Chica Loca come in eight varieties, from chorizo ($3.50) to pescado or fish ($5). All are topped with onions, cilantro and queso fresca, a mild crumbly Mexican cheese, with an ample serving of a salsa of your choice on the side.

After a Fourth of July weekend spent consuming hot dogs filled with more nitrate than is contained a commercial-grade fireworks, Munch felt like hearty, homemade, preservative-free fare might be a nice way to recover.

On this culinary excursion, Munch invited Shadyside Friend of Munch and New York City-Born Friend of Munch.

SFOM ordered the chorizo taco ($3.50) and the carnitas taco ($3.50). Her chief complaint was the tacos were wrapped in two corn tortillas, which made her feel like she "was mostly eating tortilla." The green salsa was her favorite part of the mix.

Munch ordered the al pastor taco ($4.50), which was stuffed with chunks of pork spit-roasted with a pineapple. The meat was delicious, slightly edged with gristle for texture and with a hint of sweetness. The Mexican bean salad ($4), a mix of kidney and white beans laden with cilantro and a light dressing, left something to be desired. The salad was refreshing, but the taco shell it came in was a little on the tough side. Or maybe it wasn't meant to be eaten at all.

Our order came with a healthy serving of chips and a mild tomato salsa. The salsa was standout, a mixture of fancy schmancy heirloom tomatoes laden with cilantro. We also ordered a side of guacamole and chips ($5), which came out silky smooth and topped with queso fresco.

NYCBFOM, remarked that his veggie taco ($3.50) included "actual roasted veggies ... as opposed to some places where they essentially just take out the meat." But he, too, agreed that the tacos filling-to-tortilla thickness ratio was off.

Our meal, eaten on the restaurant's patio in the sweltering heat, left us craving gelato, which comes in flavors inspired by Latino cuisine such as pineapple, mojito, mole and Mexican vanilla. The gelato is one of the few items that's not made on site, but is delivered every week from Michigan (the obvious home of Mexican-themed Italian desserts).

Munch opted for the chipotle Mexican chocolate with raspberries, which was rich with a hint of spice and smoke, complemented by tart frozen berries ($3 for a small scoop). NYCBFOM got the mole gelato (pronounced like the last two syllables of Frito Lay), which was "actually spicy" with "very bright, clear flavors."

SFOM, despite her slight disappointment with the tacos, said she appreciates the shop's proximity, given that Walnut Street is pretty much devoid of Mexican food. And NYCBFOM found the tacos palate-pleasing and wallet friendly, given that a meal for three came in at $34.40.


Munch@post-gazette.com . Follow Munch on Twitter @PGMunch and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/munchPG .


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